A collection as good as B.H. Fairchild’s Early Occult Memory Systems of the Lower Midwest demands some kind of pomp. Fairchild’s poems—ambitious raids on memory, elegies for a Kansas childhood—achieve a stylistic clarity that feels mystical. Consequently, they’re hard to write about, since nothing could be clearer than his own words; you only smudge his vision while trying to describe it.
So, let me tell you about reading Fairchild. “The Blue Buick: a Narrative,” the centerpiece of this volume, is a long poem (pushing 30 pages), and relates a young man’s artistic apprenticeship with an older couple. I started it in a doctor’s waiting room, thinking I’d get a sense of the style. I emerged about half an hour later, blinking in wonder at the vanished history, rendered in graceful lines like: “The idling engine made the headlights shudder / so her body shimmered in a kind of silver foam, / and then turning quickly in a sweeping motion / into the center of the light, she stopped, froze.”
All of this is done in a language and syntax too lucid to allow sentimentality. So much so that the book’s closer, the magnificent prose poem “Memory Palace,” seems to describe Fairchild’s achievement. This is a volume with the force of “the light leaking in, widening—light like a quilt of gold foil flung out so it will drape all of this, will keep it and keep it well.”